Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid on Wednesday defended the expenditure on numerous overseas trips undertaken since he assumed the post in November.
Appearing in parliament for minister’s question time, Shahid told lawmakers that the trips were necessary to repair diplomatic relations that were damaged during the previous administration, which he heavily criticised for “isolating” the Maldives in the international community.
Responding to a question about expenses, Shahid said he has travelled to 19 countries on official visits, during which he met with the the presidents of seven countries, the prime ministers of six countries, the foreign ministers of 33 countries and other officials from 48 countries.
The cost of the trips was MVR7.5 million (US$485,760) from the foreign ministry’s travel budget, he said.
In contrast, the foreign ministry under his predecessor spent MVR27 million (US$1.7 million) on official visits during 2018, Shahid revealed, criticising the lack of transparency and failure to publish details of government spending.
“When the current government took over, the Maldives had been rejected, shunned and ostracised by the international community. We had lost the respect and high esteem we commanded in that stage. Regaining the trust and respect of the international community is a key endeavor of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih,” Shahid told lawmakers.
The country’s standing has improved over the past eight months, he added, which was evident in an increase of foreign aid and the participation of 35 countries in the Maldives partnership forum in June.
Shahid appeared in parliament after a question was tabled by MP Abdulla Jabir about restoring diplomatic relations with Iran and Qatar.
The process was ongoing, he said. But the foreign minister was unable to offer a time period. The Maldives was trying to renew ties without entanglement in regional conflicts, he said.
The Maldives severed diplomatic relations with Qatar after Saudi Arabia, Egypt and four other Arab countries cut ties with the oil-rich Gulf state amid a diplomatic crisis in June 2017. Ties with Iran were cut in 2016 when Maldives along with other Sunni Muslim countries joined Saudi Arabia in diplomatic action against the kingdom’s Shia-majority rival.
Shahid called the decisions impulsive and symptomatic of the previous administration’s unsound foreign policy.
The Maldives also expected to officially rejoin the Commonwealth at its Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali in June next year, he told lawmakers.
Last week, Russia became the fourth country to ease visa requirements for Maldivians since the new administration came to power. Thailand approved visa-free entry for a 30-day period with effect from April 14. The United Arab Emirates authorised a 30-day on-arrival visa for Maldivian from January 1 onward and a visa liberalisation agreement with India came into force on March 10.